In his 1942 short story “Runaround” visionary sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov introduced his Three Laws of Robotics:
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
Based on these precepts, Asimov wrote various short stories and novels of humans and robots over the ensuing years. His classic riff on the locked room mystery, the novel Caves of Steel, is about a robot accused of killing a human and a human cop must team up with a sentient robot to solve the crime. It’s not that there are qualms about deactivating the supposed murderer –– it’s just a high functioning machine, after all. It isn’t real is it? The creeping paranoia of the novel is what does the crime portend for humankind if robots, like humans and their laws, can calculate and act on breaking their laws. If that could happen, might they not rise up and turn against us?
Rogue robots, indeed robots out to conquer and subjugate humans, are the basis of the comic book character Magnus, Robot Fighter 4000 A.D. created by comics artist and writer Russ Manning in 1963. He’s a future man who as an orphan was raised by the Obi Wan of robots known as 1-A. Originally Magnus ran around in a metal mesh mini-skirt (a short toga, I suppose) and Ann-Margaret-like white go-go boots, karate chopping the hell out of killer robots.
DreamWorks has acquired rights to the character, so a big-screen Robot Fighter may be coming our way. But I suppose, to avoid sending mixed messages about his sexuality, they’ll dress him in X-Men-reminiscent black leather and Lycra – though in 4000 A.D. who’s to say what’s straight or gay?
Anyway, the risks notwithstanding, I hope we do see an age of the robot. Getting old, as the saying goes, ain’t for sissies. As I’ve mentioned in previous Dr. Pop posts, I’m the primary caretaker for my Aunt Margaret who is now 96. Her mind is okay ––meaning her short term memory is shot –– but she doesn’t leave the stove on or the front door unlocked, and she knows who I am. Her body is frail and this, in a way, traps her in her house. She can no longer drive and even taking shower is best accomplished if I or someone else is there, just in case.
Naturally she gets bored, hankering for something to engage her more than watching the judge shows on TV.
As I get closer to my 60th birthday, it’s still hard to imagine the day, if I live that long, when my body will let me down. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no marathoner and I don’t compete in Iron Man competitions. But I do go to the gym regularly. More than dealing with my aunt, I had a glimpse of the future a couple of years ago when I suffered a bout of sciatica – which, until then, I only knew as a joke line in old Jack Benny radio shows. Turns out sciatica is a mother and I couldn’t sleep at night due to the pain and could only walk a block without having to lean or sit down like a worn-out old man.
In the recent Robot & Frank movie, set in the near future, Frank Langella (who when he was young played a studly Dracula, and could have been cast as a 1970s era Magnus — he would have rocked those boots and skirt) plays a bored senior citizen in his 70s suffering from the onset of dementia. His son gets him a helper robot that can cook and clean, and make sure he doesn’t fall in the shower.[SPOILER] As the robot gradually lifts Frank from his malaise, Frank engages the robot in helping him return to his previous, interesting, and enjoyable life as a “second story man.” As Frank plots his capers and his robot protégé dutifully assists by learning how to pick locks –– exploiting a loophole in the Three Laws of Robotics as the robot knows what stealing is but hasn’t been programmed to know it can “harm” a human –– Frank’s mind sharpens.
The robot as a way for the aging to maintain some semblance of independence and of not having to bother their kids to get to the grocery store, of having a companion who can be available 24/7, that’s enticing. A robot could monitor blood pressure and other internal human functions and alert the doctor in a timely manner in case something was amiss. The robot can pick up the oldster if they fell and go with them on walks as a guard ’bot.
Come 4000 A.D., even given advances in medicine and hopefully not a total gutting of the safety net by the right wing (who by then will mostly be human brains transplanted into android bodies), even then humans will age and need help and care.
For once the Robot Fighter has tamed or destroyed the bad robots, he will become Magnus, Robot Care Supervisor.
Oh yeah, I want one of those. It’s not quite necessary yet but I can see the necessity lurking in the shadows, waiting to pounce. Count me in. Still, I would worry that someone might take a shot at it while it walked me around the streets of downtown Clarksdale.
Well, Magnus Robot Fighter did have a super hot girlfriend, Leeja.